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The Curious Death of Peter Artedi: A Mystery in the History of Science [Kindle Edition]

Theodore W. Pietsch
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Told through the voice of a pivotal figure in the Age of Enlightenment, this entertaining work of historical fiction explores the world of old Amsterdam and the mysterious death of a young scientist. When Peter Artedi and Carl Linnaeus first meet in March 1729 as students at Uppsala University, they take an immediate liking to each other and soon form an intense intellectual bond. Sharing their revolutionary ideas about order and hierarchy in nature, the pair develop elaborate plans to classify plants and animals in ways never seen before—Linnaeus focusing on plants and Artedi concentrating on fishes. In September 1735, though, just as Artedi is set to publish his work, he drowns under puzzling circumstances. Following up on a pledge to his lost friend, Linnaeus retrieves Artedi’s manuscripts and has them published, not before he publishes his own work and makes a name for himself as a historical figure of epic proportions, while Artedi is quickly forgotten. This story about a little-known event from a key point in history investigates the untold tale behind the friendship of Linnaeus and Artedi and what may have actually happened between them.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Early modern biologists wage a vicious struggle for survival in this piquant historical novel. Ichthyologist Pietsch (Fishes, Crayfishes and Crabs), reimagines the relationship between Peter Artedi, an ichthyologist who drowned in an Amsterdam canal in 1735, and the pioneering botanist and taxonomist Carl Linnaeus. In Pietsch's telling, the two are friends-perhaps lovers-and also rivals: Artedi a diffident genius, Linnaeus a scheming striver trying to appropriate his friend's brilliant insights as his own. (Chief among them is a system of classifying plants by their sexual organs, which Linnaeus elaborates with over-ripe conjugal metaphors.) The novel is mainly a fictionalized portrait of a toweringly narcissistic Linnaeus. ("Of all my wondrous works, it was the very first that...made me equal to the immortals," runs one auto-encomium.) Through his florid, insecure, pedantic voice Pietsch illuminates a science being born from myth and dogma-Linnaeus daringly classifies man as just another primate while dismissing the notion of evolution-and the ruthless, possibly lethal, competition between its adherents for preeminence and patronage. The result is both a sprightly tour of 18th-century biology and a twisty tale of a scientist trying to rationalize his own darker nature.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Eighteenth-century contemporaries saw only a tragic accident when the promising ichthyologist Peter Artedi himself joined the fishes as he tumbled to his 1735 death in an Amsterdam canal. But in this fascinating and impeccably researched novel, Pietsch opens a more sinister possibility. For in a lightly fictionalized account of Artedi’s intense but strained friendship with the revolutionary biologist Carl Linnaeus, readers brush up against dark hints that the senior scientist connives in the younger researcher’s death. Even if Pietsch moves slightly beyond the historical evidence, the factually grounded bulk of the narrative makes his artistic interpolations entirely plausible. For, more than any other man in Holland, Linnaeus has the motive, means, and opportunity for snuffing out his brilliant young rival. Readers see, in particular, how the brilliant but arrogant and impulsive Linnaeus becomes inflamed with jealousy at his collaborator’s accomplishments, finally boiling over with covetousness for Artedi’s groundbreaking manuscripts, craved as a vital prop for his own meisterwerk in biological classification. Himself a distinguished marine biologist, Pietsch recognizes what is at stake in these men’s science. But it is through imaginative vision, not science, that he fathoms the turbid emotions that can turn a towering but merciless genius against a vulnerable collaborator. A truly highbrow whodunit that will be of interest to readers of historical fiction, literary thrillers, and scientific history. --Bryce Christensen

Product Details

  • File Size: 1312 KB
  • Print Length: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Scott & Nix, Inc. (October 5, 2010)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B003YL4MTC
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,064,878 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Carl Linnaeus, not who you thought he was. January 30, 2011
A sophisticated, extremely well-documented tale of intrigue, more fact than
fiction (based in part on previously unpublished documents in the Amsterdam
city archives), about a leading figure in the history of science, whose true
personality is revealed through his shameful treatment of a supposed friend
and colleague. Written by a scientist rather than a professional historian,
the author brings an all new and surprising perspective to the workings of
science during the 18th-century. Wonderfully written, a terrific read!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Thrilling Ride into 18th Century Science February 8, 2011
The Curious Death of Peter Artedi tells a clever story of intrigue and rivalry between two pioneers of natural history, written in a distinctive style that puts the reader directly into the 18th century world of science and discovery. Narrated in the first person voice of Carl Linnaeus, a brilliant and immodest botanist, this nearly all-true tale offers a compelling account of events as Linnaeus meets and befriends, then thwarts and sabotages (maybe worse!) gifted naturalist Peter Artedi.

This fascinating and eerie story is clearly a labor of love for Professor Pietsch, a taxonomist and science historian. A handsome volume with a beautiful layout and exhaustive detail, this well-researched novel should appeal to all fans of Enlightenment science, natural history, and historical fiction.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 18th Century Scientific Mystery - A Must Read April 3, 2011
By Weum
Carl Linnaeus, a highly acclaimed botanist and labeled the father of modern taxonomy, narrates in first person this 18th century mysterious tale. The story centers on Linnaeus's relationship with his `friend', the naturalist, Peter Artedi. The story twists and turns around the suspicious circumstances surrounding Artedi's demise.
Who was Artedi? Exactly. We have likely heard of Linnaeus but Artedi is a name probably unknown to most of us. "The Curious Death of Peter Artedi" is an eye opening story not just of the complicated association between Linnaeus and Artedi, but also provides an exquisite look into the 18th century scientific world.
Pietsch's book will certainly satisfy the reader devoted to the thrill of a well turned mystery as well as to those who appreciate historical, scientific detail. Professor Pietsch is a prolific writer, researcher and internationally known and respected scientist, taxonomist and ichthyologist, who has crafted a masterful piece of fiction. The scientific community has benefited significantly over the years from his articles and books, so it is time now for mystery lovers to savor his writing too.
The book is thoughtfully crafted. Historical illustrations compliment the text. Following the story is a detailed chronology, 1705-1778, of events. If you are not familiar with a personal name cited in the book, Pietsch has compiled an amazing 190 biographical notes to help you navigate. And finally, there is a splendid bibliography.

We should all look forward to more historical scientific mysteries from Professor Pietsch.
"The Curious Death of Peter Artedi" is a very enjoyable read, an honorable first time novel and highly recommended.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another look at Linnaeus February 6, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Snce I am born and raised in Holland, I was still a school-child when I learned about the scientists who visited my home country during the eighteenth century, also known as the Golden Age. During that era Dutch ships sailed all over the world and brought valuable cargo's back to Amsterdam. The merchants became rich in trading these goods, but the sailors had their own way to make some extra money. In the countries they visited they collected natural history specimens in order to sell them to the owners of the Dutch natural history cabinets. In those days these cabinets were very famous and many researchers, mainly fom northern Europe, visited Holland to study the specimens that were part of these collections. I was told that the most famous of these reseachers was Carl von Linné, now better known as Linnaeus. From the fact that such a great scientist and wonderful human being spent so much time in Holland, it could be concluded that my country was leading worldwide, not only in arts, but also in science. More or less in passing another Swedish scientist was mentioned, Peter Artedi, but that man had drowned in an Amsterdam canal after drinking too much wine. As the story goes, Artedi wrote a book on the classification of fishes, but that book had to be published posthumously by his friend Linnaeus, who corrected and improved the text.

From the book written by Theodore Pietsch it becomes clear that this story is completely false and that, in fact, Linnaeus owed much to Artedi. Even though Pietsch's book is presented as a novel, it contains more than enough factual information to show that Linnaeus was sickly arrogant, not to say narcissistic. He may have been a great scientist, he was certainly not a wonderful humen being.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Inside the mind of Linnaeus March 24, 2011
Shall I admit that I never heard of Peter Artedi before I read this book? I suppose few of us have. In this suggestive tale, written from the perspective of Linnaeus, Pietsch provides us with what is at once an unusual, fascinating, and disturbing tale. It is hard to discern where known facts end and speculation begins, but that seems to be the exact point Pietch is trying to make.

Anyone who knows a bit about the history of taxonomy knows that Linnaeus was very competitive. But how competitive? Did he delay the publication of his friend's work so that his own would be published first? Or was he a true and loyal friend who kept his promise? Are we to seriously consider the possibility that the body of Artedi found in the waters of Amsterdam canal was the result of anything but an accident? Are we to say that - perish the thought - Linnaeus had a hand in his....I cannot even bring myself to write the word! Ah, read the book and judge for yourself. Anyone interested in Linnaeus should know who Artedi was (I can say now with a certain sense of satisfaction, as I now do now know this poor "died to soon" pioneer of science).

Throw a few kronor on the table and get this handsome volume into your library. You won't know what to think once you've finished, but you will be thinking. Highly recommended (perhaps even required reading) for anyone with an interest in Carl Linnaeus.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars The Curious Death of Peter Artedi
This delightful history has many beguiling elements - mystery, intrigue, exploration, and discovery during the 1760-1790's, when views of science and religion were undergoing rapid... Read more
Published 14 months ago by Fond O'Phish
5.0 out of 5 stars Pietsch's First (and hopefully not last) Novel
As a biologist and avid reader of historical fiction I throughly enjoyed Pietsch's first novel. Well known for his scholarly writings he has demonstrated his insistence on... Read more
Published 17 months ago by Argus-Mariner
2.0 out of 5 stars Where is the mystery?
I picked up this book thinking that it was a historical fiction involving Carl Linnaeus and Peter Artedi. Read more
Published 23 months ago by Aydin Orstan
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderfully written, would read again and again!
This is a wonderfully written account of the relationship between Linnaeus (the world renown Botanist) and his friend, Peter Artedi. Read more
Published on October 23, 2011 by young ichthyologist
5.0 out of 5 stars Artedi vs. Linnaeus - the ultimate historical cliffhanger
On the night of 27 September 1735 suddenly ended the life of one of the most significant founders of the science of systematic biology when Petrus Artedi, Angermannius, drowned in... Read more
Published on May 19, 2011 by Sven Kullander
5.0 out of 5 stars A excellent historical novel
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. As a scientist working with fish diseases and taxonomy (mainly microbial), I was completely engaged by the history surrounding the development of... Read more
Published on March 27, 2011 by Jim Winton
5.0 out of 5 stars Refreshing and interesting book
This finally arrived yesterday from Amazon, and by lunchtime today I'd read the whole book(admittedly with the help of a day recuperating on the couch). Absolutely fascinating. Read more
Published on March 20, 2011 by Fisheries Guy
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More About the Author

Theodore W. Pietsch is Dorothy T. Gilbert Professor in the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, and Curator of Fishes at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, at the University of Washington in Seattle. He is author of more than 200 scientific and popular articles, including a dozen books, that focus primarily on marine ichthyology, especially the biosystematics, zoogeography, reproductive biology, and behavior of deep-sea fishes. He has also published extensively on the history of science. Among the latter are works on the French comparative anatomist Georges Cuvier and his 22-volume Histoire Naturelle des Poissons (1828−1849); bookdealer, publisher, and secret agent Louis Renard and his Fishes, Crayfishes, and Crabs; the unpublished manuscripts of the French explorer-naturalist Charles Plumier; and the unpublished paintings of Indo-west Pacific marine fishes and crustaceans of Isaac Johannes Lamotius. His first novel, The Curious Death of Peter Artedi: A Mystery in the History of Science, was published by Scott & Nix, New York, in spring 2010. Cuvier's History of the Natural Sciences: Twenty-four Lessons from Antiquity to the Renaissance, and Trees of Life: A Visual History of Evolution were published in spring 2012.


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